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LIGHT YEARS AWAY (1981).

This is one of the most mystifying endeavors from Swiss-director Alain Tanner (JONAH WHO WILL BE 25 IN THE YEAR 2000. LA SALAMANDER), currently residing in Arthouse Oblivion thanks to dickwadded U.S. distributors, who'd prefer to spew out the latest bowel movement from Wings Hauser... The story is nominally in the near future, but it might as well be present-day England, with Mick Ford (Alan Clarke's SCUM) starring as a disaffected street punk, roaming the urban blight with no rhyme or reason. Unable to even hold down a dishwashing job because of his attitude, Mick is enlisted by an eccentric recluse named Poliakoff (cantankerously played by Trevor Howard), and heads into the desolate countryside to help "Crazy Pol" out at his garage. Mick isn't exactly sure why he's ditching the city for a wasteland-like existence with a possibly-crazy old man who's been holed up by himself for years, and Trevor doesn't even seem to want the company, but they come to a tenuous partnership. Howard takes Mick under his wing as an apprentice, in exchange for some odd jobs (like manning a gas pump that has no customers, or straightening up a junk yard that has no purpose). And as Mick learns more and more about Poliakoff's secret invention, the film takes on a fantastic element and becomes an almost mythic mission... It's certainly a strange, tenuous concoction and the film shambles to a close as only the most obtuse art films can get away with. Though I wouldn't call the end result altogether successful, it's continually fascinating, and long hunks of it are unforgettable. The bleak landscapes consist of junked cars, barren fields and grey skies. The mood suddenly shifts into that of absurdity (at one point Trevor buries himself in the ground for three days in order to heal his wounds, leaving just his head sticking out of the ground). And both characters remain interesting throughout -- each lost in a framework of chaos and trying to escape their respective worlds, one way or another. And happily, though Poliakoff could've become one of those "irascible but lovable curmudgeons" that I hate with a passion, the character remains mysterious and aloof to the end. It's a haunting, almost uncategorizable tale, barely held down by gravity...

© 1994 by Steven Puchalski.